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Groups planning to call for REGPA revisions

April 3, 2014

Before the Inyo County Board of Supervisors hears from the Planning Commission Tuesday and gives direction on the draft Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment, local residents and representatives of the Manzanar Committee, Owens Valley Committee and Big Pine Tribe will be giving a press conference on the courthouse steps. File photo

APRIL 1, 2014 ---- With many questions left unanswered, or rather, answered in generalities as opposed to specifics, residents will be looking to their elected officials today with what’s been described as a mixture of anxiety, hope and fear.
Following a presentation scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m., the Inyo County Board of Supervisors is set to provide input on the Planning Department’s Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment – the first time Inyo’s top officials are expected to offer substantive feedback or opinion on the controversial document.
The board has several options: it can suggest any number of changes to the REGPA, or none at all; it can postpone giving direction to the Planning Department until a later time; or it can reject the REGPA altogether. The board can also once and for all answer the question: Where does Inyo County stand on renewable energy development?
Among those expected to be in attendance are representatives of the Owens Valley Committee, Big Pine Paiute Tribe and Manzanar Committee, who are planning a 12 p.m. press conference on the courthouse steps.
As drafted, the REGPA identifies 14 areas of Inyo County – federal, state and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power land included – that should be rezoned to accommodate large-scale industrial solar and wind development projects. The REGPA holds no regulatory authority over state, federal or LADWP lands, although, according to Planning Director Josh Hart, the state is required to take the county’s position on renewable energy “into account.”
The county contends the draft amendment is a proactive attempt to identify areas suitable for development before an expected influx of project applications from developers under pressure to meet state green energy mandates. Yet when asked how many projects were in the queue, besides LADWP’s unpopular, 200 megawatt Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch proposal, County Administrator Kevin Carunchio said the county had received interest from two developers – and one was a small-scale operation in Olancha.
Opponents of the current REGPA, meanwhile, suggest it be scrapped altogether, if not severely revised, on the basis the 14 areas highlighted include undisturbed lands, the document contains faulty and/or misleading information – including the assertion it was compiled based on the input of local residents – and that in its current form, it’s little more than an invitation and treasure map for developers to permanently destroy undisturbed land and valuable viewsheds.
Representatives from the OVC, tribe and Manzanar Committee will be calling for a plan that eliminates the 14 Renewable Energy Development Areas and instead focuses on efforts that:
• Protect Inyo’s wild and cultural resources and tourist-based economy, and
• Develop locally controlled renewable energy located within Inyo County communities – serving the energy needs of Inyo County.
“The Owens Valley Committee applauds the steps taken by Inyo County and this Board of Supervisors in installing the small solar installations near the main courthouse in Independence, the jail and the juvenile facility,” said OVC President Mary Roper. “While we support such appropriate small-scale and rooftop solar energy production, we are opposed to the industrialization of untrammeled Inyo County landscapes with large solar and wind installations.”
Assertions that the developments will bring much-needed jobs and economic stimulus to the county have surfaced and also been shot down as misleading. If LADWP’s solar ranch project is to be taken as an example, say opponents, then any jobs created by these projects will be temporary at best – and might not even go to local residents. At the height of its project, LADWP will have 350 workers in Inyo County, only 10 of whom will be selected from the local workforce. Once finished, the facility will for the most part be unmanned. It will cover 1,200 acres at the base of the Inyo Mountains, meanwhile, with 1-2 million photovoltaic panels, access roads, fencing, a maintenance building and other structures in line of sight of Manzanar National Historic Site.
To date, there has been overwhelming public opposition to both the SOVSR and REGPA. Numerous letters to the editor, blog posts at www.deepestvalley.com, a petition and online poll indicate very little public support for either endeavor – although a few supporters say there is a “silent majority” in favor of both. This cannot be verified for obvious reasons.
“We hope that the Inyo County Board of Supervisors has heard the public outcry, understands the legal limitations that affect activities within the Owens Valley and takes steps to modify the REGPA prior to moving forward” with the final version, Roper said.
As of press time, Deepest Valley’s petition asking for the supervisors’ rejection of the REGPA had 983 signatures.
“We believe that opening the door to industrial development will forever damage the most important characteristic of Inyo County: its stunning and awe-inspiring natural beauty,” the website states. “We ask that the Inyo County Board of Supervisors reject the REGPA, not only to help protect Inyo County, but also on the basis that the documentation itself represents unsound logic, invalid arguments to support its claims, and faulty and erroneous policy-making.”
An online poll at inyoregister.com asking people their take on LADWP’s solar ranch proposal yielded the following results as of yesterday afternoon: 43 percent of the 432 respondents “hate it”; 32 percent think it is a “good project, wrong location”; 19 percent “like it”; and 6 percent “don’t care,” yet, curiously enough, took the time to answer the poll anyway.
Among those strongly opposed to the project are the National Park Service and Manzanar Committee.
“We’re here … to oppose any effort to open up large sections of the Owens Valley to large scale industrial solar and wind farms,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey, adding that he will once again be urging the county to oppose the LADWP project in particular.
“This so-called ranch poses a direct threat to the Manzanar National Historic Site – a National Historic Site, created by our Congress not that many years ago, as it would destroy the character of the valley and the ability to truly understand what it was like to be locked up behind the barbed wire with nothing but open desert and mountains all around,” Embrey said.
“We urge the Inyo County Board of Supervisors to join us, all the concerned people of the Owens Valley, and throughout our state to oppose the SOVSR and other large-scale energy projects, and to support instead smaller renewable development at the point of use.”
Embrey and others said they will call on the City of Los Angeles to:
• Immediately cease and desist plans for the SOVSR.
• Abide by the Land Management Agreement they signed in 2010, which prohibits industrial development, and;
• Stop looking to Inyo County for their resource needs, concentrating instead on local sourcing.
“Our people have endured many devastating impacts to our ancestral homelands over the last 100 years,” said Alan Bacock, water program coordinator and member of the Big Pine Paiute Tribe. “Our concern is that the county’s proposed REGPA and LADWP’s industrial solar project will meet short-term goals while leaving long-term consequences for future generations to deal with.
“We would like to see a long-term solution developed which will be sustainable for the future.”

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